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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 August, 2003, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Navy seizes smuggled Iraqi oil
HMS Sutherland
The HMS Sutherland made the seizure in the northern Arabian gulf
A ship smuggling 1,100 tons of oil out of Iraq has been intercepted by the Royal Navy.

It is the Navy's largest seizure since the end of the war.

Royal Marine commandos from the HMS Sutherland frigate boarded the vessel in the northern Arabian gulf late on Friday and arrested its captain and crew.

The raid comes as ordinary Iraqis rioted in frustration at the country's fuel shortages.

The ship had been under surveillance for several days.

"This is the most significant seizure we have had since the end of the war," Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Richard Walter said.

The ship, called Navstar 1, was registered in Panama and had a Ukrainian crew.

(It) demonstrates the commitment of the coalition forces and the Iraqi police to protecting Iraq's assets, so that they can benefit all Iraqis, rather than the criminals
Paul Bremer
Chief US administrator in Iraq

It was not known who owned the vessel or where it was headed with its load of diesel oil.

The US-appointed administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, said coalition forces were determined to put an end to any illegal activities affecting Iraq's economy and its people.

"The seizure of the Navstar 1 demonstrates the commitment of the coalition forces and the Iraqi police to protecting Iraq's assets, so that they can benefit all Iraqis, rather than the criminals," he said in a statement.

The ship was due to be escorted to the southern port of Umm Qasr this weekend where the crew would be handed over to Iraqi police for questioning.

Smuggling

US and British forces in Iraq have been trying to clamp down on rampant smuggling of oil and oil-related products since the invasion in March.

British forces in Basra in the south of the country came under a hail of stones on Saturday as locals' anger at the lack of petrol spilled over.

Earlier this week, US forces seized 12 oil barges and detained 150 people in a two-week campaign to stamp out smuggling.

Damage to Iraq's major northern oil pipeline has meant that oil sales since the war have been restricted to supplies from its southern Basra fields.

Exports from the southern fields have been running at about 650,000 barrels per day so far in August, compared to total pre-war export potential of 2.2 million barrels per day.


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